Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Pepper
PEPPER, a name applied to several pungent spices known respectively as Black, White, Long, Red or Cayenne, Ashantee, Jamaica, and Melegueta Pepper, but derived from at least three different natural orders of plants.
Black pepper is the dried fruit of Piper nigrum, L., a perennial climbing shrub indigenous to the forests of Travancore and Malabar, from whence it has been introduced into Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the Malay Peninsula, Siam, the Philippines, and the West Indies. It is one of the earliest spices known to mankind, and for many ages formed a staple article of commerce between India and Europe,—Venice, Genoa, and the commercial cities of central Europe being indebted to it for a large portion of their wealth. Tribute has been levied in pepper; one of the articles demanded in 408 by Alaric as part of the ransom of Rome was 3000 ℔ of pepper. Pepper-corn rents prevailed during the Middle Ages, and consisted of an obligation to supply a certain quantity of pepper, usually 1 ℔, at stated times; and the term still lingers in use at the present day. The price of the spice during the Middle Ages was exorbitantly high, and its excessive cost was one of the inducements which led the Portuguese to seek a sea-route to India. The discovery of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope led (1498) to a considerable fall in the price, and about the same time the cultivation of the plant was extended to the western islands of the Malay Archipelago. Pepper, however, remained a monopoly of the Portuguese crown as late as the 18th century. In Great Britain it was formerly taxed very heavily, the impost in 1623 amounting to 5s., and as late as 1823 to 2s. 6d. per ℔.
The largest quantities of pepper are produced in Penang, the island of Rhio, and Johore near Singapore,—Penang affording on an average about half of the entire crop. Singapore is the great emporium for this spice in the East, the largest proportion being shipped thence to Great Britain. In 1880 the imports into England from Singapore amounted to 21,179,059 ℔, valued at £385,108, and from other countries 559,909 ℔, valued at £12,979, the re-exports being 12,925,886 ℔, chiefly to Germany, Italy, Russia, Holland, and Spain. The varieties of black pepper met with in commerce are known as Malabar, Aleppy or Tellicherry, Cochin, Penang, Singapore, and Siam. The average market value in the London market is—Malabar, 3d to 5d per ℔; Penang, 2d to 4d; Singapore, 3d to 4d..
Pepper owes its pungency to a resin, and its flavour to a volatile oil, of which it yields from 1·6 to 2·2 per cent. The oil agrees with oil of turpentine in composition as well as in specific gravity and boiling point. In polarized light it deviates the ray, in a column 50 mm. long, 1°·2 to 3°·4 to the left. Pepper also contains a neutral crystalline substance, called piperin, to the extent of 2 to 8 per cent. This substance has the same empirical formula as morphia, C₁₂H₁₉NO₃, but differs in constitution and properties. It is insoluble in water when pure, is devoid of colour, flavour, and odour, and may be resolved into piperic acid, C₁₂H₁₀O₄, and piperidin, C₅H₁₁N. The latter is a liquid colourless alkaloid, boiling at 106° C., has an odour of pepper and ammonia, and yields crystallizable salts. A fatty oil is found in the pericarp of pepper, and the berries yield on incineration from 4·1 to 5·7 of ash. The only use of pepper is as a condiment. Notwithstanding its low price and the penalty of £100 to which the manufacturer, possessor, or seller of the adulterated article is liable, powdered pepper is frequently diluted with starch, sago, meal, and other substances, which can be readily detected under the microscope.
In the south-west of India, where the pepper-plant grows wild, it is found in rich, moist, leafy soil, in narrow valleys, propagating itself by running along the ground and giving off roots into the soil. The only method of cultivation adopted by the natives is to tie up the end of the vines to the neighbouring trees at distances of at least 6 feet, especially to those having a rough bark, in order that the roots may easily attach themselves to the surface. The underwood is then cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are manured with a heap of leaves, and the shoots are trained twice a year. In localities where the pepper does not grow wild, ground is selected which permits of free drainage, but which is not too dry nor liable to inundation, and cuttings are planted at about a foot from the trees either in the rainy season in June or in the dry season in February. Sometimes several cuttings about 18 inches long are placed in a basket and buried at the root of the tree, the cuttings being made to slope towards the trunk. In October or November the young plants are manured with a mixture of leaves and cow-dung. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear in the fourth or fifth year, and if raised from cuttings are fruitful for seven years, if from seed for fourteen years. The pepper from plants raised from cuttings is said to be superior in quantity and quality, and this method is in consequence most frequently adopted. Where there are no trees the ground is made into terraces and enclosed by a mud-wall, and branches of Erythrina indica are put into the ground in the rainy season and in the course of a year are capable of supporting the young pepper plants. In the meantime mango trees are planted, these being preferred as supports, since their fruit is not injured by the pepper plant, while the Erythrina is killed by it in fourteen or fifteen years.
In Sumatra the ground is cleared, ploughed, and sown with rice, and cuttings of the vine are planted in September 5 feet apart each way, together with a sapling of quick growth and rough bark. The plants are now left for twelve or eighteen months and then entirely buried except a small piece of bent stem, whence new shoots arise, three or four of which are allowed to climb the tree near which they are planted. These shoots generally yield flowers and fruits the next year. Two crops are collected every year, the principal one being in December and January and the other in July and August, the latter yielding pepper of inferior quality and in less quantity. Two or three varieties are met with in cultivation; that yielding the best kinds has broadly ovate leaves, five to seven in number, nerved and stalked. The flower-spikes are opposite the leaves, stalked and from 3 to 6 inches long; the fruits are sessile and fleshy. A single stem will bear from twenty to thirty of these spikes. The harvest commences as soon as one or two berries at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is mature, but when full-grown and still hard; if allowed to ripen, the berries lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected in bags or baskets and dried in the sun, on mats or hard ground, for two or three days. When dry the pepper is put into bags containing from 64 to 128 ℔, and is then ready for the market. The yield varies in different localities. In Sumatra it is estimated at about 1 ℔ per plant per annum. In Malabar each vine gives 2 ℔ a year up to the fifteenth or twentieth year, or about 24 ℔ from each tree, a single tree sometimes supporting eight or twelve vines; an acre is calculated to bear 2500 plants, to cost about £4 in outlay to bring it into bearing, and to yield a produce of £80 when in its best condition.
White pepper is obtained from the same plant as the black, and differs only in being prepared from the ripe fruits. These, after collection, are kept in the house three days and then bruised and washed in a basket with the hand until the stalks and pulpy matter are removed, after which the seeds are dried. It is, however, sometimes prepared from the dried black pepper by removing the dark outer layer. It is less pungent than the black but possesses a finer flavour. It is chiefly prepared at the island of Rhio, but the finest comes from Tellicherry. The Chinese are the largest consumers. In 1877 Singapore exported 48,461 piculs (a picul =133 ℔) to that country. The London market value is about 4d to 7d per ℔. White pepper affords on an average not more than 1·9 per cent. of essential oil; but, according to Cazeneuve, as much as 9 per cent. of piperin, and of ash not more than 1·1 per cent.
Long pepper is the fruit-spike of Piper officinarum, C.DC., and P. longum, L., gathered shortly before it reaches maturity and dried. The former is a native of the Indian Archipelago, occurring in Java, Sumatra, Celebes, and Timor. It has oblong, ovate, acuminate leaves, attenuated to the base, which are pinnate and veined. The latter is indigenous to Ceylon, Malabar, eastern Bengal, Timor, and the Philippines; it is distinguished from P. officinarum by the leaves being cordate at the base and five-veined. Long pepper appears to have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans under the name of πέπερι μακρόν; and in the 10th century mention is made of long pepper, or macropiper, in conjunction with black and white peppers. The spice consists of a dense spike of minute baccate fruits closely packed around the central axis, the spike being about 1 inch long and inch thick; as met with in commerce they have the appearance of having been limed. In Bengal the plants are cultivated by suckers, which are planted about 5 feet apart on dry rich soil on high ground. An English acre will yield about 3 maunds (80 ℔) the first year, 12 the second, and 18 the third year; after this time the yield decreases, and the roots are therefore grubbed up and sold as pipli mul, under which name they are much used as a medicine in India. After the fruit is collected, which is usually in January, the stem and leaves die down to the ground. Long pepper contains piperin, resin, and volatile oil, and yields about 8 per cent. of ash. Penang and Singapore are the principal centres in the East for its sale. In 1871 Singapore shipped 3366 cwt., of which 447 were sent to Great Britain. Penang exports annually about 2000 to 3000 piculs. The value in the London market is from 37s. to 45s. a cwt.
Ashantee or West African pepper is the dried fruit of Piper Clusii, C.DC., a plant widely distributed in tropical Africa, occurring most abundantly in the country of the Niam-niam. It differs from black pepper in being rather smaller, less wrinkled, and in being attenuated into a stalk, like cubebs, to which it bears considerable resemblance externally. The taste, however, is pungent, exactly like that of pepper, and the fruit contains piperin. It was imported from the Grain Coast by the merchants of Rouen and Dieppe as early as 1364, and was exported from Benin by the Portuguese in 1485; but, according to Clusius, its importation was forbidden by the king of Portugal for fear it should depreciate the value of the pepper from India. In tropical Africa it is extensively used as a condiment, and it could easily be collected in large quantities if a demand for it should arise.
Melegueta pepper, known also as “Guinea grains,” “grains of paradise,” or “alligator pepper,” is the seed of Amomum Melegueta, Roscoe, a plant of the Ginger family; the seeds are exceedingly pungent, and are used as a spice throughout central and northern Africa. See vol. vi. p. 36.
(e. m. h.)